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Oculus Movie Review

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Oculus Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

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The horror genre is more diverse than people give it credit for. Filmmakers can rely on blood and guts or tension or even getting into your mind to scare you and within a wide variety of topics. While it has its fair share of flaws, Oculus does have an interesting premise going for it and the filmmakers have put a lot of time, piecing its complicated storyline together as it jumps through time and plays with one’s head about the illusions of reality. While its origins as a short film are definitely apparent, as it likely would have worked slightly better in that format, director Mike Flanagan has crafted something at least marginally fascinating in its construction.

Oculus begins in a rather scattershot way, as the screenplay jumps head first into a lot of exposition, when saying “This mirror is haunted” would have been necessary enough. Where Flanagan’s directorial work succeeds is how the editing jumps between the present day and the protagonists’ childhood. It strangely flows and never becomes confusing and he seamlessly connects the two timelines in an effective manner. His biggest accomplishment is playing with our ideas of reality. Most of the time, it’s not clear what is actually happening in front of a character’s eyes and which is merely visual trickery. This never becomes annoying and Flanagan never goes too far out there with his use of imagery. Even when real life kicks in, there’s still an air of suspicion surrounding it. While the motivation of this strange mirror probably would have added an interesting dynamic to the proceedings, it’s not entirely necessary.

As spooky as the mirror is, former Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan leaves the biggest impression as the woman trying to prove its supernatural powers. She delivers a fantastic and subtle performance that doesn’t rely on the usual horror acting tropes of screams and startles. This is obviously a person who has gone through a rough childhood, but Gillan also injects moments of humour in places where they don’t feel inappropriate. She brings so much life and believability to Kaylie and every time she is saying her dialogue, attention is one hundred percent on her. This is the kind of performance that deserves to receive awards attention by year’s end, but due to the genre, it will most likely be ignored. While she impressed many with her work on Doctor Who, Oculus shows she has the capabilities to be an effective and memorable leading lady in horror movies and other pictures. As her doubting brother Tim, Brenton Thwaites sadly pales in comparison to Gillan’s star-making turn and merely comes across as a bore. Any trauma the character is said to experience as a child is only evident in the dialogue and flashback scenes, rather than his performance. It makes one wish that the entire film consisted of merely Kaylie stuck in the house by her lonesome. It also would have made for a scarier film.

Where Oculus starts to meander is in the third act, where it switches between the very heavily Shining-influenced flashbacks and the present day. As stated before, the editing is handled to decent effect, but as the story goes on, it becomes slightly more and more tiresome and reaches the point where it really needs to wrap up. It’s not helped by how barely explored the parents are. Maybe there’s a point to Rory Cochrane’s workaholic father being somewhat in the dark, but it seems like the mirror got him a little too easy and in comparison to Jack Torrance in The Shining, the progression to madness does not come off as natural. In a scene where Kaylie runs down the multiple victims of the mirror, their stories are more interesting than the one she is trying desperately to prove. Despite this, Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff are both strong and manage to slightly rise above the material they’re handed.

Sometimes, a script just needs one more run through the writing process before cameras start rolling. Oculus has a great premise, but it starts to run out of steam as the third act kicks in and there is only so much Karen Gillan’s winning performance can elevate the film. The ingredients are there, but it just feels like it needed a couple more stirs in the pot to make this live up to the potential this idea had. Nonetheless, there is quite a bit to admire here, even if the final product falls just a tad short of truly resonating.

Review By: Stefan Ellison


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